Fort Laramie

by Bob Stepno

This 1956 series starred Raymond Burr as a cavalry officer in one of the better “adult” westerns of radio’s later years. Even its opening announcement admitted to a “dark and tragic” aspect, quickly borne out in this “War Correspondent” episode’s opening soldierly conversation about killing Indians and getting by with inferior weapons.

The conversation is overheard by reporter David Harkness of The New York Star, who arrives in Indian territory full of assumptions, and gets off on the wrong foot with both the soldiers and Burr’s Capt. Quince. The soldiers send him on a series of wild-goose chases from place to place looking for the captain until he is exhausted, and admits to learning a lesson in media ethics.

Harkness: I think maybe your men wanted to be sure I had a long walk.
Quince: The men wanted to know who was listening in on private conversations, writing down what they said.
Harkness: I told them who I was.
Quince: After you made your notes.
Harkness: That’s right. The major gave me a free hand on the post; I guess I used it a little too freely. I didn’t mean any harm, Captain.

After a false start, Harkness sets to work on a double expose: Someone is smuggling high-quality repeating rifles to the Indians, and they are better guns than the single-shot Springfields used by the cavalry for lack of funds.

The captain and his major later have an extended conversation about frontier public relations — the folks back East apparently are more sympathetic to the Indians, and Quince’s open and honest answers to the reporter could cause trouble.

Later, trying to do the cavalry some good, Harkness embellishes a story about a small raid — increasing the numbers of Indians, the fierceness of the battle and the severity of injuries. But he is brought back to the value of truthful reporting by Quince, a man who sees shades of gray.

Harkness: “The people back east have to be blasted out of their beliefs. Do you think they’ll pay attention to the story as it really happened. Do you think that will get you the guns and equipment you need?”

Quince: “I don’t know your business. When you came here you said you wanted a fair picture of the West. We’ve got settlers who get massacred… We’ve got settlers who don’t… We’ve got red men who slaughter innocents, and we’ve got red men who sit down at treaty tables and try to make peace.”

Harkness: “But all that doesn’t make exciting reading, Captain…. You’re quite a realist, aren’t you?”

Quince: “It makes life and death out here.”

Harkness rips up his story and admits he has a lot to learn. Quince says that’s a good sign.

(Students of the portrayal of journalists in popular culture should know that Burr also played the reporter spliced into the Hollywood version of the original Japanese “Godzilla” film to “frame” it for an American audience.)

Additional episodes of the series are available from The Internet Archive Old Time Radio Researchers Fort Laramie page.

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